Pulp magazines of the early 20th century weren’t always full of lurid tales of sex, violence, and misogyny, but they earned that reputation on the backs of magazines like Culture Publications’ Spicy Detective Stories (and its companion, Spicy Adventure, for people who like less detecting in their spice). But while Spicy Detective might have been the ’30s equivalent of late-night Cinemax, thanks to these six guidelines, its editors ensured their stories were never vulgar. Courtesy of 1987’s The Book of Literary Lists:
- In describing breasts of a female character, avoid anatomical descriptions.
- If it is necessary for the story to have the girl give herself to a man, or be taken by him, do not go too carefully into details.
- Whenever possible, avoid complete nudity of the female characters. You can have a girl strip to her underwear or transparent negligee or nightgown, or the thin torn shred of her garments, but while the girl is alive and in contact with a man, we do not want complete nudity.
- A nude female corpse is allowable, of course.
- Also a girl undressing in the privacy of her own room, but when men are in the action try to keep at least a shred of something on the girls.
- Do not have men in underwear in scenes with women, and no nude men at all.
“The idea is to have a very strong sex element in these stories without anything that might be interpreted as being vulgar or obscene,” the editors write.
See? Nothing vulgar at all. Just quotidian scenes of dead, naked women, and elaborate metaphors for breasts. Presumably those guidelines did not apply to the covers, however.